Choosing a contact center vendor from a crop of hundreds of doppelgangers isn’t easy.
But as customer expectations rise, contact centers like you, turn to new technology and third-party partners to transform your customer experience. You realize decades-old platforms no longer suit the needs of modern customers, and the hunt for a new contact center platform begins.
Along the way, you’re tasked with distinguishing between vendors that, on the surface, seem nearly identical in their feature sets. To help, you turn to the Request for Proposal process to get a comparative view of how potential vendors stack up.
Download Now: Get the template with 101 questions to ask on your RFP.
Sending out an RFP is your first line of defense in sharing the important intricacies of your contact center to potential vendor partners. It helps you define project goals and intended outcomes, so you can choose a partner that will elevate your operations.
The right vendor partner can either bring you into a digital ecosystem that breathes new life into your customer experience strategies. Or, they can contribute to the 25 years of CSAT complacency plaguing the industry.
You (and your internal team of experts) are tasked with weeding out the vendors who can’t inch you closer to your goals. And with IDing which vendors will act as a true partner, supporting you on your mission to close the growing customer expectations gap.
To help, we’re sharing a step-by-step guide on how to start an RFP, what stakeholders to involve, and how to evaluate vendor submissions. Here’s the rundown.
1. Understanding the RFP process
Submit an RFP when you’re ready to evaluate detailed solutions to your most-pressing contact center problems. Based on your initial research and outreach, you send out a uniform template to multiple vendors.
Your template includes items like your project scope and timeline, your budget and your mandatory needs list. And, it asks specific questions of your vendors, so you can see what differentiates them and makes them the best partner to solve your CX problems.
According to RFP software vendor DirectRFP, at minimum, your RFP needs to include these items:
Once you get all the proposals back, compare them side by side and eliminate vendors that don’t match your needs. Then, shortlist the ones who do, so you can kick-off deeper conversations and negotiations.
2. Align internal stakeholders
The impact of a successful customer service operation extends well beyond the contact center. How you serve customers and deliver on SLA promises impacts your ops leaders and your revenue teams, too. And, how your contact center shares data with other systems like your CRM and ticketing system impacts IT. That means, learning how to start an RFP for a contact center (and submit it) shouldn’t be a solo project.
In fact, poor project coordination and communication is behind 80% of project failures.
Determine who will be impacted by the project and who needs a voice in the solution you choose. Then, lean on each of these stakeholders to weigh in and help you evaluate needs, set project goals and timelines, and ultimately, decide on the right vendor partner.
Once you’ve IDed your key stakeholders, use the RACI model to assign accountability throughout the process. The RACI model helps stakeholders keep track of who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed throughout the life of the project.
Typically, the person with the most intimate knowledge of the project needs (likely, you) is the one to learn how to start an RFP, author it, and send it off. But the responsible party must gather knowledge, needs, and requests from other stakeholders to stay aligned.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself and company stakeholders along the way:
- What specific problems do we need to solve for our customers and agents? And how does new technology help solve them?
- What customer frustrations do we hear the most?
- How well do our current systems integrate and communicate?
- Based on our ideal customer profiles, how might customer needs change in 5 years?
- What kind of customer and performance data do I need to capture, keep, and use? And how can I share that stat with those who need it?
3. Setting goals and outlining basic project needs
Now that you have your key stakeholders and basic concerns addressed up front, sit down with those involved and scope out the full project.
Start with a project overview, background info, and a timeline. Does your contract with your current vendor run out in three months or six? Do you need to have pens down and contracts signed by a certain date, or do you need to be fully implemented by that date?
In the background info, include where your contact center is located, how many contact center seats you have (plus forecasted seat-count growth), and what kind of system you currently use. Then, dive in on the goals of your project, your budget constraints, and what you expect from a vendor. Do you want to have a partnership with unlimited access to customer service? Or, are you fine with purchasing a base package and flying solo, then paying extra only when you need help?
Outline your potential barriers to vendor solutions, too. Like a homegrown CRM you can’t find an integration for or the need for a new Telco carrier.
4. Getting specific with project expectations
As you think through how to start an RFP, the more detail and clarity you can deliver, the better your responses will be from vendor partners.
Set expectations and specific requirements that outline how you’re evaluating all the vendors, so they don’t miss defining key project details.
Create a mandatory must-have list and a nice-to-have wish list. What do you need to keep your contact center operational and meet customer expectations (your must-haves)? And what features, functionality or level of service would make your life easier, but don’t make or break your project’s success (your nice-to-haves)?
“Clearly define expectations for the proposal itself, what they need to specifically address as well as what could potentially disqualify a proposal. If there are requirements that must be included in the final deliverable, include them. The more you provide upfront, the more spot-on the response will be.”– Angela Harless for Forbes
If you communicate to vendors that you’re seeking an omnichannel platform to deliver a better customer experience, that’s a great start. But, if you tell them you’re fed up with disjointed channels and losing track of customer requests hiding across your inboxes, that’s better.
Be specific in the challenges you present, so once you press send, each vendor knows upfront how to help you solve your problems.
>> Learn More: See how Sharpen’s platform aligns with your business needs
5. Evaluate your submissions
Start weeding out vendors.
If a vendor doesn’t cover all the items on your list of must-haves, it’s safe to cut them from the crop of hopeful potential partners.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, evaluate vendors side by side. Categorize your responses and assign a value to each of the categories. Then, score vendors against those values in each category. Did one vendor get 100/100 in the omnichannel category but 2/100 in the IVR category? And how does that impact the level of service you can give back to customers?
Look at each requirement comparatively and decide what vendors rank highest in the categories that matter most.
Be sure to keep in mind the experience you’ve had with each vendor along the way, too.
Full feature sets and incredible functionality are great, but soft skills and attitude matter. If you had a poor experience with the people on the sales team, that’s telling of the support you’ll get from the vendor in the future. And if the vendor struggled to answer your questions clearly, or you had to chase them down on the date your RFP was due, they might lack the professionalism you need from a partner.
Shortlist the vendors that have the best scores and kick-off larger conversations with each.
6. Sample questions to ask
Now that you’re clued in on how to start an RFP and the process, let’s dig into some helpful questions you can use. It’s important to ask questions to see how each vendor can problem-solve and support you today. But, it’s also important to probe and see how vendors might handle future challenges, too. Do they look at your business plan proactively, or do they only help you as each problem pops up? Keep these ideas in mind with each question you ask.
Here are 15 questions to get you started with your RFP:
- Where is your contact center platform hosted – in the cloud or on-premises?
- Do any third parties have access to our data within the platform?
- How are new supervisors and agents added to the platform?
- Do your tools integrate with the systems I already have in place?
- What does the implementation process look like? And, how does the number of seats I need impact these deadlines?
- What are the SLAs provided as part of support?
- How frequently do you push updates to the platform?
- Describe the voice quality provided by your platform.
- Can a single IVR handle different interaction types?
- How does your contact center platform help supervisors monitor and manage agent performance?
- Does your platform include quality management functionality? Which channels are supported?
- Does your contact center platform include a configurable IVR?
- Which communication channels does your contact center platform support?
- Can users create custom reports within the platform?
- Can APIs provide for integration to additional third-party systems?